Sadiq Khan is failing London in his appalling approach to the Covid crisis
It takes some nerve for Sadiq Khan to claim Labour are the party of competence after his appalling response to this pandemic. For all Khan's posturing in public about tougher COVID restrictions, the Mayor has failed to act, let alone lead, from the very beginning of this crisis.
Infamously, on the 3rd March, the Mayor claimed on Good Morning Britain that "there is no risk in using the Tube or buses or other forms of public transport or going to a concert". Only twenty days later the country went into lockdown.
A few people may be tempted to cut the Mayor some slack on this point. It was a new virus, and nobody knew that much about it yet. However, the Mayor was warned only a year earlier that Londoners would be at a higher risk of catching viruses on the Tube in a report produced by the University of Bristol. A warning to which the Mayor and Transport for London failed to listen.
Only 15 days after saying there was "no risk in using the Tube", the Mayor reduced the TfL's underground and bus networks to a Saturday service. The consequence was overcrowding, endangering London's key workers. Instead of restoring London's transport network, Khan ignored the pleas of NHS workers who were publicly saying they felt more at risk commuting on the Tube than working in COVID wards and Intensive Care Units.
To make matters worse, Khan played politics with this dangerous situation of his own making. To secure a TfL bailout, he issued the Government an ultimatum - bail me out, or I'll cut services more. A bold move considering Londoners' lives were at risk and TfL's bankruptcy was partly down to his policies. Despite the Government demanding a full Tube service as part of the agreed £1.6 billion bailout for TfL, Khan still hasn't delivered on his side of the agreement. The Waterloo & City line and several Tube stations remain closed.
In April, the Mayor called for the Government to make face coverings compulsory on public transport, ignoring that he already had the power to do so on TfL services. If Khan seriously believed that Londoners needed to wear face coverings on public transport at this point, why didn't he choose to lead for once and introduce the rule himself?
After face coverings did become compulsory, the Mayor and Transport for London didn't even enforce the new rule. Bus drivers were told by TfL and the operating companies not to ask passengers to use face masks or stop them from boarding if they refused to wear one. Khan's office at the time justified it by saying they weren't at the enforcement stage yet.
Sadiq Khan's face coverings hypocrisy doesn't end there. Together with my Conservative colleagues, we called for the Mayor to provide face coverings to TfL workers back in April. Yet Khan refused to provide them with protective equipment despite his call for the Government to make face coverings compulsory on public transport. It took until the 11th May for Sadiq Khan to provide London's transport workers with PPE, but drivers were not required to wear masks. They still aren't. And too often TfL staff can be seen on Tube platforms carrying face coverings, but not wearing them.
After his appalling response to this crisis, Khan needs to accept his fair share of responsibility for London being added to the COVID watch list. By failing to enforce the face coverings rule and keep TfL staff safe, the Mayor’s inaction will have sadly contributed to the spread of the virus. As much as Khan tries to pin the rise on the Government, he cannot escape from the hard truth that for months he has failed to lead our city out of this crisis.
For Sadiq Khan to claim Labour has "made the right calls at the right time throughout the COVID crisis" is a sick joke. If Sadiq Khan, as Labour's most powerful directly-elected politician in England, shows us anything, it is that Labour's response would have been incompetent, hypocritical and dangerous. Given Khan’s record during this crisis, it’s no wonder he has become irrelevant. In a crisis, London needs a leader. Sadly, we have a Mayor missing in action.
Article by Keith Prince AM first published by The Telegraph.